Rick Warren is a well-known conservative minister who has a broad following among mainstream evangelical Christians. His Saddleback Church, founded in 1980 in Southern California and now attracting up to 20,000 congregants each week, is a model of a successful megachurch ministry. His bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, is a blend of Christian spirituality and self-help. Warren has been criticized for lending his influence to conservative causes such as the destabilizing of The Episcopal Church.
Warren has gained notoriety as an advocate of encouraging Christian religious leaders and believers to adhere to his Purpose Driven theology. “Purpose driven” refers to the attempt to balance the five “purposes” of worship– fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism– in followers’ churches and personal lives. The purposes are derived from two verses in chapters 22 and 28 of the New Testament book of Matthew.
Warren has also been involved in endeavors to combat AIDS, poverty, and hunger in Africa particularly through the Saddleback Church’s international P.E.A.C.E. initiative, which aims to confront the most pressing concerns facing the globe through spiritually-based activism. Max Blumenthal has noted that the details of Warren’s activities in this area have not been explored and Warren himself has not opted to shed much light on the matter. However, it does appear that Warren has formed alliances with African religious leaders such as Henry Orombi and Martin Ssempa of Uganda and Peter Akinola of Nigeria, some of whom have forfeited scientifically viable solutions to the AIDS epidemic in favor of abstinence only education. In particular is pastor Martin Ssempa, who is also a close friend of Uganda’s First Lady and member of Parliament, Janet Museveni. Ssempa has put on such displays as public condom burnings and the publishing of the names of alleged homosexuals in local newspapers. He is also a key advocate for stricter punishments for gays and their supporters such as imprisonment. After global criticism of the 2009 Anti Homosexuality Bill in Uganda began circulating, Warren issued a statement separating himself from Ssempa.
Martin Ssempa does not represent me, my wife Kay, Saddleback Church, nor the Global PEACE Plan strategy. In 2007, we completely severed contact with Mr. Ssempa when we learned that his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own. Our role, and the role of the PEACE Plan, whether in Uganda or any other country, is always pastoral and never political. We vigorously oppose anything that hinders the goals of the PEACE Plan: Promoting reconciliation, Equipping ethical leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation.
Despite this, Warren has not denounced the 2009 Uganda anti-gay bill.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Warren hosted candidates John McCain and Barack Obama at the nationally televised Civil Forum on the Presidency, in which Warren queried the two candidates on religious and moral issues. At the same event, then-President George W. Bush was presented with an International Medal of Peace by Warren. Following the election, Rick Warren was invited to give the opening services at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, a move that was criticized by some as a deliberate move to placate Christian conservatives.
Warren and his wife Elizabeth are directors of the non-profit organizations Acts of Mercy, RKW Legacy Partners, and Equipping the Church. Warren has called the late Southern Baptist pastor Wallie Amos Criswell a major source of influence on him. Criswell is held to have played a crucial role in the resurgence of conservatism within the Southern Baptist Convention. Criswell was an ardent subscriber to dispensational Premillennialism, which, in contrast to Postmillenialism, holds to a course of action requiring followers to be more concerned with future events such as the rapture and the return of Jesus then with the performance of earthly works conducted through the auspices of the Church for the gradual transformation of society. In December 2008, Warren appeared on the Fox News program Hannity & Colmes where he agreed with Sean Hannity’s assertion that the president of Iran needed to be “taken out” and proceeded to offer justification for such a move based on biblical passages. In the same month, in a CNN interview, Warren also compared his opposition to gay marriage as the equivalent to his opposition to a marriage based around incest, pedophilia or polygamy.
Warren on abortion: “Don’t tell me it should be rare. That’s like saying on the Holocaust, ‘Well, maybe we could save 20 percent of the Jewish people in Poland and Germany and get them out and we should be satisfied with that,’” Warren said. “I’m not satisfied with that. I want the Holocaust ended.”